Cuba Vinales Valley Article
Cuba Vinales Valley in the land of the Mogotes – nothing is as you’d expect
Cuba Vinales Valley article written by Travel Journalist and Photographer Solange Hando
In this legendary valley, nothing is as you’d expect. Not a vineyard in sight, despite the name, the ‘sleeping elephants’ turn out to be hills and the prehistory mural dates back to the 1960s. Yet, on a leisurely day trip west of Havana, Cuba Vinales Valley lays on the charm like nowhere else in Cuba.
Such is the haunting land of the Mogotes, the luxuriant limestone outcrops rising straight from the valley floor where red earth and green fields weave a brilliant pattern and tobacco leaves dry under steep thatched roofs. Now and then, a rider appears on the trail, sombrero and open shirt fitting perfectly into the landscape, unchanged for centuries.
Except that today, there are visitors to guide around, riding, cycling, walking, climbing or popping out of a coach to gaze at one of the world’s largest murals. It took six months to clean the rock face before 64 local farmers set to work, suspended from the cliff top by sisal ropes. They knew nothing of painting or prehistory but directed by expert Leovigildo Gonzales, looking up from the ground with telescope and megaphone, they created a fresco over 100 metres high and 260 metres long. Dinosaurs, humans in vibrant colours, it’s a fantasy rather than a history lesson but from a distance, we loved it.
The guide was right: Cuba Vinales Valley is wonderful and weird and as we headed for the Cave of the Indian Chief, we wondered what to expect. But first, we had to get past the elderly farmer, ‘only one peso to plough my field’, he said with a twinkle in his eye. The oxen weren’t so keen but it was fun, then like seasoned adventurers, we hopped aboard a flat-bottomed boat, ready to sail into the bowels of the earth. The underground river was pleasantly cool, dotted with rock formations that soon tested our imagination, here a fish, there a garland of tobacco leaves or a crocodile staring open-mouthed in the eerie light. We had entered the largest cave labyrinth in Cuba and brave as we were, it was a relief to get back into the sun.
After the uneasy darkness, ‘Vinales’ village, which gives its name to the valley, greeted us like a painter’s dream lined with feathery pines and pastel-coloured houses, candy pink, mint green and blue, fronted by colonnaded verandas. Rocking chairs beckoned in freshly-swept porches and there were orange and papaya trees and jacaranda in full bloom. Cuba Vinales Valley is full of history but best of all, we liked the tale of the local poet who spoke in verse quite naturally but never went to school until he reached his 40th birthday.
‘Rainforest, did you say?’ Well, almost. The nearby Caridad Gardens were so well camouflaged we nearly missed the entrance. Designed by two sisters to fulfil their father’s dream, it was as close to a jungle as we would get, brimming with orchids, lilies, tropical trees, mysterious paths and the luminous colours of myriad hummingbirds.
The day was drawing to an end but we couldn’t come this far and ignore the healing waters of San Vicente. For our aching limbs, the pool was bliss, lukewarm and mineral-rich, a glistening oasis tucked in woodlands where birds twittered in the canopy and flowers released their scent in the evening air. We feasted on fresh guava and mango, no wine, but plenty of Cuban coffee.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Solange Hando is a freelance travel journalist and photographer with a keen interest in Asia and in-depth knowledge of Nepal and Bhutan. Solange writes for publications worldwide, contributes to National Geogrraphic books and gained a number of awards, including ‘Best St Lucia Travel Writer’.
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Images on this Cuba Vinales Valley Article page are copyright of Solange Hando